feel uncomfortable about what's going on. "Oh, it's a madhouse around here
all right," grouses Spencer Peart, who's 71 now and has handed his ranch
over to his daughter, Joyce Carpenter, and her husband, Duane. "It all
happened too fast." Sometimes Peart, who enjoys reminiscing about things
like the time two World War II bombers ran out of gas and "lit" in his
pasture, would like to turn back the clock. But he has been made a millionaire
several times over by the wells pumping in the hayfields where Ron Smith used
to play, and he apparently has no intention of returning the money.
Others feel the
same way. There is a good deal of grumbling, but there is a great deal of new
wealth. Folks are reluctant to reveal how much they're being paid by the oil
companies for exploration and drilling rights. It's rumored, however, that some
landowners south of Evanston are getting $2 million an acre.
hereabouts are too dad-gummed concerned with the almighty dollar." fumes
Phil Riddle, the southwest district supervisor for the state Game and Fish
Department. "There's not much concern left for what's happening to our land
and our wildlife. To me, Wyoming is wildlife. When we lose it, we're losing
part of what makes us what we are. I can't imagine living here without the elk
and the deer. But those old oil boys are just raising high holy billygoat hell.
If we don't get some controls on them pretty soon, we're sure as the dickens
going to lose the whole Overthrust Belt clear on up to Jackson."
In fact, the
march on Jackson has already begun. One gas well was drilled in the Granite
Creek area of the Teton National Forest five years ago and two more are going
in now. The U.S. Forest Service is evaluating a well proposed for the Cache
Creek area east of Jackson, near the famous National Elk Refuge. Incredibly,
the Forest Service also has recommended leasing out for exploration a
murderously rugged roadless area in the Snake River Range. Philip Hocker, an
architect who lives near Jackson, is fighting the proposal. "It isn't just
the environmentalists who say the oil companies shouldn't go in there," he
says. "God says they can't go in there." Even Yellowstone hasn't
entirely escaped the onslaught. A number of applicants are trying to obtain
leases for drilling in the Teton Wilderness adjacent to America's first
rest of the country needs the oil, but Wyoming is caught in a bitter
trade-off," says Pugh. "The way things are going, we're definitely
going to lose our game herds in the Overthrust Belt. I can't see any way of
stopping it. All we can do is try and save enough habitat to bring back the
herds when the boom is over. That means we have got to slow things down and
start thinking about the long-term impact of what we are doing."
Pugh and his
family moved to Wyoming from Alvin, Texas several years ago because they liked
the country. Slender and tousle-haired, he looks like a college professor, but
he works as a boiler operator at one of the local trona plants. In 1980 he ran
as a candidate for state representative, and much to his surprise he won.
Actually, his victory wasn't so startling, because Pugh is youthful, sincere,
articulate, energetic, and knows how to flash a winning smile. He has only one
political liability: A former president of the Wyoming Outdoor Council, he is
an unabashed environmentalist, and in Wyoming that's no badge of honor.
Pugh blames the
disarray along the Overthrust Belt on all the major oil companies—Amoco,
Chevron, Exxon, Champlin, Quasor and Natural Gas of California—working there
and on the Rock Springs office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
That office is responsible for administering most of the land in the
southwestern corner of Wyoming. As a legislator, Pugh has used what he calls
"some deep pressure" to get the companies and the BLM to be more
responsive to criticism. "Their priorities are out of whack," he says.
"And they don't know enough about wildlife to make intelligent
environmentalists pin the blame even more squarely on the BLM. Bob Rogers, a
veteran state newspaperman based in Buffalo, is president of the Wyoming
Wildlife Federation. In that capacity he has a fair amount of contact with the
BLM and other public agencies. "That BLM Rock Springs office is caught up
in a rush to develop, regardless of the impact," he says. "Hell, some
of the oil people are easier to deal with than those bureaucrats are. If you're
an environmentalist, it's pretty tough to get information out of them. If
you're an oilman, you can get whatever you want without any red tape at
The BLM isn't the
only government agency with jurisdiction in the Over-thrust Belt. In fact, the
interweaving is so complex that environmentalists are often hard put to point
the finger of blame at anyone. The BLM is the primary watchdog on federal lands
south of the Bridger Teton National Forest. Up there, though, the U.S. Forest
Service is in charge. The U.S. Minerals Management Service in Rock Springs gets
into the act whenever a permit to drill is filed—unless the proposed well is on
private land. In that case, the Wyoming Oil and Gas Commission is responsible.
The state Game and Fish Department is the designated authority on matters of
habitat, but its officials complain they're seldom consulted. The state
Department of Environmental Quality is the point agency on matters of air and
water pollution. Everybody, in short, has a piece of the action, which is to
say that nobody is in control.
To some observers
all this looks like a clear-cut case of government failing to govern. And the
reason why government has failed, environmentalists charge, is that it wasn't
given a chance. In 1969 the landmark National Environmental Policy Act was
passed to ensure that future development of the country's resources would be
conducted in an orderly manner and without undue violence to the environment.
The law prescribes a standard bureaucratic review process, including the
preparation of a detailed document known as an "environmental impact
statement," usually referred to as an EIS. This meticulous accounting of
plans, problems, solutions and trade-offs is supposed to force developers and
government agencies to look before leaping onto public lands. But in the case
of the fiasco now unfolding on the Overthrust Belt, the EIS process hasn't been
followed. Several years ago the Rock Springs office of the BLM undertook a
fairly painstaking preliminary assessment of the likely effects of petroleum
development in its three-million-acre district. It concluded that an
environmental impact statement would be unnecessary because there would be
"no significant impact on wildlife."